With a perfect image of tropical islands, intriguing ethnic and religious cultures and a rich architectural history, Thailand is definitely one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia.
Buddhism’s main expression in Thailand is the wats, the most important places in all major cities. This is where both Buddhists and visitors come together to pray or embrace the beautiful architecture and the amazing Buddha images. And if you take a closer look at the Thai people’s daily lives, you will see how Buddhism affects their actions and thoughts.
What is Theravada Buddhism?
Theravada is considered to be Buddhism’s oldest and most conservative style of teaching. They have strict rules governing the practice of meditation in which new techniques are generally not allowed into practice. This is known as the “School of the Elders” because the practices are from the earliest teachings of Buddha. The Theravada traditions are also focus on Buddha’s life events. The Theravada teachings stick to the Buddha’s sayings, known as the Pali Canon. The teachings were written in both Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism, in the ancient Indian language of Pali.
Theravada Buddhism’s intention is to become a truly awakened being with the aid of sutra meditation. They are also following the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddha, which are:
1. Right Vision.
2. Right Emotion.
3. Right Speech.
4. Right Action.
5. Right Livelihood.
6. Right Effort.
7. Right Mindfulness.
8. Right Meditation.
To create distance from difficult thoughts and feelings, it teaches about karma and pacifies meditations. This also highlights the meditation practice of mindfulness. This meditation is done by concentrating on the breath while sitting and the sensations in the body. It also focuses on changing gestures and thoughts while walking very slowly. This meditation makes one aware of every moment’s rise and fall.
On the other hand, one realizes that there is no permanent, unchanging self that exists independently of all and all others. Someone gains an understanding of reality with this activity as you are freed from self centered concern and the unhappiness it brings. Today in Sri Lanka, as well as Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, this type of Buddhism is the dominant form of Buddhism. The Theravada monks learn, read and chant the Buddhist scriptures while they also conduct the public ritual ceremonies.
How did Theravada Buddhism Spread in Thailand?
It is assumed that Buddhism spread to Thailand during the era of Indian Emperor Ashoka as early as 250 BCE. From then on, in Thai culture and society, Buddhism has played an important role. Buddhism has often been associated with the Thai empire, with Thai kings traditionally seen as the key supporters of Buddhism in Thailand.
Several historians believe that at the time of the Indian Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire and in the first millennium after Christ, Buddhism must have flowed into Thailand from India. Southeast Asian kingdoms were inspired directly from India during the 5th to 13th centuries and practiced Mahayana Buddhism.
In his travels, the Chinese pilgrim Yijing noted that all major sects of Indian Buddhism bloomed in these areas. The southern Srivijaya and the northern Khmer Empire competed for influence and their art reflected the rich Mahayana pantheon of bodhisattvas. The Mahayana and Hindu Khmer Empires ruled most of the Southeast Asian peninsula from the 9th to the 13th centuries.
More than 900 temples were built in Cambodia and surrounding Thailand under the Khmer Empire. Amid the collapse of Buddhism in India, missions of Sinhalese monks slowly converted the Mon and Pyu people from Ari Buddhism to Theravada. Theravada Buddhism only became state religion when the Kingdom of Sukhothai that was established in the 13th century.
Popular Buddhist Temple in Thailand.
Wat Arun, known locally as Wat Chaeng, is a landmark of the Chao Phraya River’s Thonburi temple. It is probably one of Bangkok’s most incredible temples, because the architecture is very unique from other temples that you can visit throughout the Thai capital. Wat Arun or the ‘ Temple of Dawn’ consists in part of colorfully decorated spires and stands majestically above the sea.
Wat Arun is directly in front of Wat Pho, so it is quick and fast to get there. You can take a riverboat from the Saphan Taksin boat dock, which ends at Dock 8. Considering the beauty of architecture and fine craftsmanship, it’s no wonder that many find Wat Arun to be one of Thailand’s most beautiful temples. The Chao Phraya’s spire is among the famous landmarks of Bangkok.
The majestic spire, beautifully decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass, rises over 70 meters high. If you find the steps to be very steep, you can climb the central prang as there is a railing to help with your balance. You can see the flowing Chao Phraya River and opposite the Grand Palace and Wat Pho when you reach the highest spot. Sculptures of Chinese soldiers and animals are found at the base of this central tower.
Go into the hall of the ordination and you can admire the golden image of the Buddha and the wall decoration. Although Wat Arun is very famous with tourists, for Buddhists it is also an important place of worship. Try to dress properly or collect one of the cover ups that can be rented near the entrance.
Wat Saket is a temple of the Ayutthaya period in Bangkok Old Town with a shining golden chedi. Also known as the Golden Hill, it comprises an 80-meter high manmade hill constructed during King Rama III’s reign. Every year, the temple welcomes worshippers as it is the busiest during Loy Krathong in November. The Golden Mount is a sacred pilgrimage site in November during the long week of worship. Reaching the top involves a 300-step climb that circles the chedi like a loosely slithering snake.
The trail is pretty easy to tackle, particularly if you visit in Bangkok early in the day or during mild weather. Wat Saket was the crematorium of the capital and the dumping ground in the late-18th century for some 60,000 plague victims. You can find an odd cemetery at the base of the Golden Mount, covered in vineyards and overgrown trees. After reaching the top of Wat Saket, you will be surrounded by a wall of Bangkok Old Town bells and panoramas.
Wat Prah Yai, Pattaya.
You can’t fail to notice a giant 18-meter-high Buddha popping up through the trees on the very top of Pratumnak Hill, between Pattaya and Jomtien Beach. This Golden Buddha is the largest in this region. Pattaya was a fishing village and this temple which was built in the 1940’s became a highlight for this region and the village developed rapidly in the next few decades. Tourists who love to see the elegant design of the statue and the temple complex are incredibly popular with the Big Buddha. Yet, local people who come to the temple to pray are also honored. The staircase lead up to the temple is quite impressive as golden dragons fly along all the handrails. Once at the top, tourists enjoy taking pictures in different positions with the many Buddha figures.
Most tourists are unsure on what day they were born, but there is a particular interest to this knowledge in Thailand. You will find vendors selling several small birds in cages before you arrive at the top of the hill. The aim is to free people and create good karma. Another common activity during a visit to Pattaya’s Big Buddha Hill is to ring the bells line with a big stick, which is supposed to call good luck to anyone who completes the task. Pattaya’s Big Buddha Statue is a cultural highlight for any trip to Pattaya, and people who are interested in Buddhism will love this experience.
Buddhism is a system that relies not on ideology or dogma but on practice and individual experience. While Buddhism has evolved into various forms, it has remained relevant to the diverse cultures it exists in. In fact, over the centuries, it has been reinterpreted in order to remain relevant to each new generation. There are many types of Buddhism, but the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are at the core of all of them. Even though they were divided into different schools and faiths, they never went to war with each other. Rather, they practice respect and tolerance as they can go to the temples of each other and worship together.
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